Monday, June 29, 2009

More Advice you Never Wanted to Hear: Residency

Holy shit, new residents are starting on Wednesday! Residency, for me, was such a far cry from medical school. When I started residency, it was back in the "dark ages" of medicine. Read: prior to the (oh so benevolent) 80 hour work week. That's right. I worked 120 hour weeks in my first 2 years. Uh huh. I'm the monsta. But seriously...I did have weeks when I was on call Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. 36-48 hours on, 6-8 hours off. It was unbelievable. Surreal. I often fell asleep in my bed after a (much needed) shower with a Smirno.ff Ice or in my hand. I remember holding a retractor for a vag hyst, in an oncology case, at 9 pm, when I was post-call. I had tears streaming silently under my surgical mask. I thought I was going to die. But, guess what? I did not die. Not physically, anyway.

Residency isn't as hard as it used to be, but the principles remain the same. Work. Your. Ass. Off. I mean that. In order to be a good intern/resident, you'd better work (now turn it to the left). Pay attention in morning rounds. Make check boxes and lists. Make sure the labor and post-partum floors are taken care of when you are the OB resident. Be sure that all Gyn cases are covered, pre-opped, and post-opped when you are the Gyn resident. Be everywhere at every time. Seriously. I mean this.

A good resident knows his/her patients. Labs are checked often. Notes are written. Labor progress is always recorded. Gyn patients are rounded on 4 hours post op, AM, and PM. Know your patients better than the attendings know them. Be able to regurgitate labs, post-op blood loss, and diet orders. Help your fellow residents and interns. Don't throw people under the bus. Work as the team. If someone isn't sleeping, then *no one* is sleeping. Divide and conquer. Be nice to the nurses. Round on the floors and give universal "Wal-Mart orders" to the floors before you try to lay down (IE. if they can buy it at Wal-Mart ~heating pad, Tylenol, Tums, fan~ they can have it!)

Help your junior residents, and teach them how to run the board. There is no such thing as a "little" case. Scrub in on as many surgeries as humanly possible. I don't care if you have seen a million c-sections, scrub in on the next may be a C-hyst. You need as much surgical exposure as humanly possible. Especially now in the restricted 80 hour work week.

If you have to do research for your residency it NOW. Do not wait until your Senior year when you are trying to interview for jobs, study for written boards, and get licensed. Do the research early. Just suck it up and do it. Be good to your nurses, and they will be good to you. Don't whine. Don't ever let them see you cry. Stick up for yourself. Enjoy your time off. If you are considering a family, residency is a decent time to have a kiddo. Just be ready for the way your fellow residents will treat you. Especially if you are in a small program. No one wants to work more than they have to work, but you may never have so many people to cover your absence again. Don't delay your personal and family life for residency. Take care of yourself. Don't eat those fries with a grilled cheese at 2 am because you "deserve it." Exercise. Leave your job at work. Stay in touch with family and friends.

Learn as much as you can. When you go out into the "real world" you will wish that you did more surgery and paid more attention in clinic. Even when it sucks, you can do it. Even when you think you won't make it, you will. One day you will look back and 4 years of residency will be over...seemingly instantaneously. You can do it. One foot in front of the other. Life on the other side is good. Keep moving.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ass-vice: The Med School Years

Oh yes, so where were we? Medical School. Everyone finds their path to medical school a bit differently, but once you are there? It is a completely new "ball game." Once upon a time, you were the best of the best. You worked the hardest. You got the best grades. You were the smartest person that your friends knew. Guess what? Once you get to medical school...everyone is the same as you. You are all the smartest, the most rigorous, the most dedicated, and, no, you cannot all be the best in the class. Perhaps, for the first time in your young life, you will be an "average student." Please don't let that kill your self esteem. You know what they call the person to graduate last in his/her medical school class? That's right...Doctor.

For me, I felt like once I got to medical school I could actually *breathe.* I had, for all intents and purposes, made it to the "end game." I did not go into med school with a super clear idea of the field in which I wanted to specialize. (Aside: I thought Dermatology would be way cool with awesome hours/lifestyle, but, much to my dismay, I came home disgusted every day from Derm clinic (and also with a case of ringworm before the rotation was over).

However, first things first. The first two years of medical school? They suck. Hardcore suck. It is massive amounts of information, crammed into your brain in ways you never thought possible. You thought you studied hard in undergrad? Freaking forget it. I remember that I would sit....cross legged on my futon in my apartment, hunched over my books and notes for 8-10 hours (after going to class all day), pausing only for bathroom breaks and meals. I would do this, and then I would make a B or a C, because I was in the middle of the (incredibly intelligent) class. So. Frustrating. Studying in medical school surpassed anything that I ever dreamed of in undergrad, but so did the parties after the tests. Crayzee. I made my first D in medical school. I failed my first class (Endocrinology) in med school. I felt lower than I ever had felt....until 3rd year. Once we got into the wards, it all changed. I was taking care of patients. I liked it!!! All of the angst of the first 2 years felt redeemed.

For those of you going into medical school knowing that you want to specialize in Ob/ have a leg up. I had no idea who I wanted to be when I "grew up." I blindly stumbled through the blocks until I found something that I really loved to do. For me, it was Women's Health. I loved reading about it. I enjoyed the clinics. I was intrigued with the GYN surgeries, and, of course, delivering babies was the biggest rush in the world. I remember vehemently wishing that I didn't love it. I looked at the lifestyle and was scared to death. But, I knew, just knew, that being an Ob/Gyn was what I was meant to do. I wished it was different, but I couldn't fight how I felt.

If you do know that you are passionate about Ob/Gyn in medical school, get involved early. Look for research (ugh) projects with residents. Bust your butt on your rotations, make yourself invaluable to your team, and impress your attendings. You will need good letters of recommendation from at least a couple attending physicians, so do as many rotations and electives as you can do. Be highly visible. Scrub every surgery that you can manage to do, get your hands in on as many deliveries as you can, and offer (often) to run scut for your interns. Learn the lifestyle before you take the final plunge.

The good news for you is that Ob/Gyn, because of the lifestyle, isn't super-competitive like Radiology or Dermatology. You don't need AOA to get into a good program. If you are a good student, with good references, you will likely go where you want to go. I graduated in the top 25% of my class, and I got my first pick from the Match. So, again with the bullet points:

~ If you know what you want to do, get involved early.
~ Don't despair, the first two years suck for everyone.
~ Go above and beyond on your Ob/Gyn (and, really, every) rotation. Make yourself invaluable to your team (without being a PITA).
~ Find research opportunities through the residents and interns. Everyone needs someone who can research charts and compile data.
~ Be thinking about your letters of recommendation early.
~ Work hard, and the rest will follow.
~ DO NOT be a know-it-all, or do anything listed here.

Up next, how to survive your residency...with your sanity somewhat intact! :)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

"I give myself very good advice..."

"...but I very seldom follow it." I've been getting a few requests in comments and emails about advice for people in various stages of pre-medical and medical life. I think I have spilled a few kernels of (snicker) wisdom here and there within the blog, but I'm feeling froggy enough to try to organize my thoughts for your collective benefit. Since there are a million ways from point A to point B, what I will do is to describe what worked for me, and, if you are in a hurry, will bullet point the highlights at the end of the paragraph.

Elementary School

Joking! Joking! Ok? You people are way too serious.

High School

I wish that I could say that I was consciously preparing for a medical career even in high school, but in truth, I really wasn't. I liked science, hated math, and loved to read and write. For a brief time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer...that lasted until I took a class in Law. I did make good grades, participated in a lot of activities, and took as many Advance Placement courses as my high school offered, so the better not to have to take them in college. Let me clarify that my parents had already prepaid for a state school, so I had no lofty aspirations of Ivy League schools. My fascination with my Anatomy and Physiology class led me to choose to be a Biology major in college.

~Make good grades
~Take as many AP courses as you can handle
~Have FUN (it may be the last time you are able...Hahahaha. Just Kidding)
~Get involved (volunteer, sports, music, student council, doesn't matter what, just do something else besides study!)


So, once I went to college, and chose to be a Biology major. I had to seriously consider my options for a career. I could be a research scientist, go for the PhD track, maybe teaching, or I could pursue the medical field. Once I had an inkling that I wanted to declare myself for "pre-med," I began to actively seek opportunities to volunteer. I worked at a hospital rehab center a few evenings a week, shadowed an (family friend) anesthesiologist during the summer months during surgeries. I also sought out other "extracurricular" activities, many of which involved leadership positions in my junior and senior years. When I was applying for medical school (back in the dark ages, though I imagine it is much the same now), the main goal for many schools was to find the "well-rounded" student. (read, *not* the person buried up to their eyeballs in books day and night).

Don't get me wrong, I did *plenty* of studying. I studied harder than I ever had before, and was fortunate enough to make Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key, and Mortar Board. These things look good on a CV. Bio majors' classes were always Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays (so no four-day weekends) and usually started at 8 am. Oh, how my college self suffered, only being able to go out 3 nights a week instead of 5. I still managed to make great memories and go to football games, even if I didn't get to go out on as many Thursday nights as I would have liked.

I also did not take a class for the MCAT prep, and I totally wished that I had. I did my own prep, and did just fine (obviously), but I hate to think of how much better I could have been. I didn't even automatically release my scores until I saw them, I thought they were that bad. Luckily, it all worked out.

One thing that I always loved was being able to take some "non-major" coursework in the subjects which interested me, like Astronomy and Philosophy. My Biology major afforded me the flexibility to take a few classes "just for fun." I know that you can still go to medical school without a science undergraduate major, but it is more difficult to do. I couldn't imagine trying to get in all the pre-requisites for a completely different college *and* fulfill medical school requirements. I know people who did it, but I was far too lazy for that!

~Choose a science major (unless you are not lazy).
~Volunteer and expose yourself (not like *that*) to the medical profession in any capacity possible.
~Again, get involved! Leadership positions are a plus, as well, and you are going to need good people skills. (Trust me on this one.)
~Don't be a martyr. Yes, you are working hard, and no, your final exam isn't going to be as easy as making a giant cardboard Apple poster (no shit), but you ain't seen nothing yet.
~Study harder than you did in high school.
~Take non-major classes that interest you. This is your last opportunity to learn about something "for fun."
~Take an MCAT prep course.
~Again....HAVE FUN! I had a great time in college, and it was because my studies and social life were fairly well balanced.

Ok, I think I will stop here for tonight. Up in the next installment....ass-vice, I mean, advice for Medical School, Residency, and beyond!